Ironman by Chris Crutcher

IronmanChris Crutcher is most definitely one of my all-time favorite YA authors.  Not only is he not afraid to tell it like it is in his books, but he also tells it like it is in the “real world” via Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, Stotan Unplugged.  No matter how controversial a topic may be, he doesn’t feel the need to censor himself.  He believes (and I fervently agree) that teens should not be sheltered from the harsh realities of the world.  If teens have the potential to “live” something, who are we to tell them they shouldn’t “read” about it?  Sadly, I don’t have a review for the first Chris Crutcher book I read — Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes — because I read it before I started this blog.  But, I have reviews for several other books that I’ve read since then (Angry Management, Deadline, King of the Mild Frontier, Period 8) if you are not familiar with his books and would like a little primer.  I have no idea how I managed to work nearly ten years as a Tween & Teen librarian before reading Ironman (and without yet reading Whale Talk and Stotan!), but I suppose I just need to pace myself and I will get there.

Ironman is the story of a seventeen-year-old guy named Beauregard Brewster (a.k.a. Bo) who is training for a triathlon.  Balancing home life, school work, and training would be challenging enough for most teens, but Bo also has to deal with a father who constantly belittles him and even schemes to try and make him lose that race.  Many times, teens who experience problems at home find that school is a safe haven, but Bo has issues with his English teacher and former football coach, Coach Redmond, as well.  Fortunately, he has a couple of adults in his life who actually have his best interests in mind — Mr. Serbousek, who teaches Bo’s journalism class and also coaches him in swimming, and Mr. Nakatani (aka Mr. Nak), who runs the anger management group Bo has to attend in order to avoid a suspension over an argument with Coach Redmond.  While it can be depressing to read about the (based-on-reality) terrible parents that some kids have to deal with, books like this also serve as a beacon of hope for teens who are living through similarly terrible situations.  Whether it’s just realizing that their situation is not unique or finding hope that the situation can actually get better, albeit with lots of time and plenty of work, books like this definitely matter to teens.  Here’s to hoping you only need this book to make you aware of other people’s problems…

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Lost Girls : An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker

Lost Girls

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This book was written by an investigative reporter.  It tells the true story of the search for a serial killer who is still out there somewhere.  At last count there are at least five women who were found in an area of Long Island called Oak Beach.  The families of the women have a theory as to why these cases are still unsolved : the women were all involved in Internet prostitution.  The book really explores the shady world of escorts and the way that technology, by way of Craigslist and Backpage, has made prostitution dangerous in a whole new way.

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Countdown by Deborah Wiles

Countdown

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In October of 1962, my mom and dad were 7 and 13, respectively.  They’ve told me stories of the old “duck and cover” drills they had to do in school and how frightened they were about the potential onset of a nuclear war, but I don’t think I truly appreciated what they went through until I listened to this audiobook.  Experiencing the 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis vicariously through a character in a book, even knowing how the entire thing ended, was enough to make me anxious.  I can’t imagine I would have fared well if I actually had to live it.  (I probably would have had panic attacks all day, every day!)  Such is the power of this extremely well-written book and it’s wonderfully produced audiobook.  I was curious how the scrapbook pages would translate in an audiobook, and I was very pleased with the way sound bites were interjected into the story and sometimes woven together.  (It actually reminded me quite a bit of the commercials in MT Anderson’s Feed.)

More striking than the anxiety this story induced, nevertheless, was the hope that it inspired.  One quote, in particular, made such an impression that I pulled over during my evening commute to write it down.  (Because my OCD self was concerned about accuracy, nevertheless, I found a print copy of the book.)

There are always scary things happening in the world.
There are always wonderful things happening.
And it’s up to you to decide how you’re going
to approach the world…
how you’re going to live in it, and
what you’re going to do
.”

Though Franny’s sister, Jo Ellen, was responding to Franny’s fear over the Cuban Missile Crisis, her words can truly be applied to any person’s response to any terrible situation.  And, especially since this book goes beyond the facts of the Cuban Missile Crisis to explore Franny’s relationships with her family and friends, I think this book has a much broader appeal than just fans of historical fiction.

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Captive Queen : A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitane by Alison Weir

Captive Queen

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I listened to this in my car this summer on my trip to and from Cape Cod.  It was really fascinating!  And I was surprised by how “randy” a life Eleanor lived, first as the wife of King Louis VII of France and then as the wife of King Henry II of England.  She had two daughters with King Louis and then had five sons and three more daughters with King Henry.  She was an important advisor to both her husbands.  The political intrigue of the time was really interesting to learn.  Being so enamored of all things English, and wanting to learn even more about the key players leading up to King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I, I found this story truly captivating!

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Dark Witch by Nora Roberts

Dark Witch

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Book One of the Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy – on Audiobook:  I enjoy a good scary story!  This one fills the bill with witches and warlocks, spooky fog, plus romance, spells, wolves and horses, and it’s set in Ireland.  When Iona arrives in County Mayo, she possesses mystical powers and a talent with horses.  She is hired by the local stable and begins an affair with Boyle McGrath, the dashing owner of the business.  Iona meets her cousins and fate decrees that joining their family powers will combat an ancient evil force.  The narrator does a great job with the various voices, but spends too much time actually yelling during the action sequences.  If you enjoy this story, there are additional books and audiobooks available in this series.

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Fast Track by Julie Garwood

Fast Track

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This novel is the twelfth in a series, and although I had not read the other books, it was easy to follow the characters and the story.  If you like romance with suspense, then you will enjoy this read.

The story centers around Cordie Kane, who was raised by her father and has always had a crush on her best friend’s brother, Aiden.  Her father dies unexpectedly, leaving Cordie devastated not only by his death but also with the news that her mother, whom she thought had died in a car crash, is still alive.  In reality, she abandoned her family.  Cordie decides this is the perfect opportunity to let go of the past (her crush on Aiden) and move forward with her life.  Her first goal is to find out why her mother left her and her father so many years ago.

Aiden Madison is a workaholic who has placed Cordie in the friend zone because he watched her grow up.  It’s not until after an impromptu kiss that he realizes what a beautiful woman she has become.  When Cordie tracks her mother to Sidney, Australia, Aiden is steamrollered into accompanying her.  There the two find themselves involved in a mystery involving her mother’s wealthy family, who will do anything to keep the secret of her birth buried.  This leads to multiple attempts on Cordie’s life, which make Aiden realize that he may lose the one person he never knew he wanted.

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Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King

Everybody Sees the Ants

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Lucky Linderman’s father patently refuses to acknowledge the problems in his life.  It doesn’t matter whether the problem is growing up fatherless (his father was a POW/MIA soldier in Vietnam), his failing marriage, or his son’s troubles with a bully named Nader McMillan.  He pretty much walks away and tunes out from life when things start to get uncomfortable — often retreating to his job at what Lucky refers to as “Le Fancy-Schmancy Cafe.”  Lucky’s mom is just as bad.  She, too, refuses to acknowledge that her marriage is falling apart and ignores the bullying situation.  (She just doesn’t have as hefty an excuse as her husband.)  Even after Nader takes things too far and hurts Lucky pretty badly, his parents still choose to avoid confrontation and merely plan for Lucky and his mom to go away for the summer.  Staying with relatives in Arizona doesn’t do anything for fixing the marriage or bullying problems, but Lucky does end up making some friends while he’s there.  He also starts working out, under the tutelage of his uncle, and gains a little confidence in the process.  The only question is whether that will do him any good when he returns home.

Though most of this story is fairly standard for YA contemporary realistic fiction, there’s one thing that pushes this book pretty far into the realm of magical realism.  Lucky visits his [POW/MIA] grandfather in his dreams.  For real.  As in, he comes out of his dreams with physical tokens of where he has been.  (It actually reminds me a bit of The Dream Thieves, which is the second book of The Raven Cycle.)  Though I am sure none of the teens who read this book are actually traveling to visit long-lost relatives in their dreams, I am sure a great many of them can relate to the generalized family issues and bullying Lucky experiences.  I only hope that Lucky’s realizations and growth will inspire readers to be more proactive in response to their own problems.

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